- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

DURHAM, N.H. — The world’s first openly homosexual Episcopal bishop was consecrated here yesterday in a ceremony attended by 3,000 well-wishers, 54 bishops, dozens of reporters, and protesters who condemned the church for allowing the event.

However, soon after all the bishops had laid their hands upon him in a 2,000-year-old rite said to confer spiritual authority, the new bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, stood before the gathering in gold and green robes and tearfully told those assembled his election was a sign to those “at the margins” of society.

“Your presence is a welcome sign,” he said, “for those people to be brought into the center…. You cannot imagine what an honor it is for you to have called me.”

Bishop Robinson, 56, then urged his audience at a college sports arena to be “hospitable, loving and caring” toward those Episcopalians who disagreed with his election.

“They must know that if they must leave, they will always be welcome back in our fellowship,” he said.

His June 7 election in Concord, N.H., and his confirmation by a majority of Episcopal bishops and deputies at the Episcopal General Convention last August in Minneapolis provoked an emergency meeting last month of the world leaders of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is one of 38 members, or provinces.

In London yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed “deep regret” over the division caused by Bishop Robinson’s elevation.

In a statement acknowledging “those alienated by decisions which appear to go against … biblical teaching,” Archbishop Rowan Williams said: “The divisions that are arising are a matter of deep regret. They will be all too visible in the fact that it will not be possible for Gene Robinson’s ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every province in the communion.”

World Anglican leaders released a statement saying the denomination could split over the consecration and that as early as today, other provinces might begin declaring themselves “out of communion” with the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church.

During a point in yesterday’s ceremony at which protests could be lodged, three persons approached the microphones, including the Rt. Rev. David Bena, suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, N.Y., who read a statement signed by 36 bishops.

“We, the undersigned bishops, are registering our objection to the consecration of a person whose chosen lifestyle is incompatible with Scripture and the teaching of this church,” he said.

“It is impossible to affirm a candidate for bishop and symbol of unity whose very consecration is dividing the whole Anglican Communion,” he said. “This consecration poses a dramatic contradiction to the historic faith and discipline of the church.”

Heavy security — unprecedented for a consecration ceremony — blanketed the gathering. As Episcopalians waited patiently at metal detectors and in front of bomb-sniffing dogs, some police searched the roof of the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire.

“This isn’t your ordinary bishop’s consecration,” said a police sergeant who had worked a 24-hour shift by the time the ceremony began just after 4 p.m.

Those attending the service were greeted by protesters calling the bishop-elect a “pervert.” Eleven were from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, whose pastor has lead other anti-homosexual protests.

Facing them were several dozen students, including University of New Hampshire senior Nicole Hereford, who hoisted a sign reading, “I’m an American and a black lesbian for gay rights. Ordain Robinson.”

Miss Hereford said, “I am here to show University of New Hampshire students support [Mr. Robinson].”

Also demonstrating their support were bishops from several nations who marched in the 23-minute procession that began the ceremony.

“It’s a historic occasion in the church and a great step forward in inclusivity,” said the Rt. Rev. Michael C. Ingham, bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia and one of two Canadian prelates attending. Bishop Ingham, who began authorizing same-sex “marriages” in his churches in May, was condemned by Anglican leaders last month.

Yesterday’s ceremony was a milestone for the small Diocese of New Hampshire, which has 16,475members. It was, said its current bishop, the Rt. Rev. Douglas Theuner, the largest Episcopal gathering ever in the diocese. Bishop Theuner will retire in March, at which point Bishop Robinson will take charge of the diocese.

“Because of who you are, Gene, you will stand as a symbol of the unity of the church in a way that none of the rest of us can,” Bishop Theuner said in a sermon. “Your presence in the episcopate will bring into our fellowship an entire group of Christians hitherto uninvolved in these counsels of the church.”

“Because of your presence, the episcopate will be more a symbol of unity than it ever has been.”

Bishop Robinson was accompanied into the arena by four presenters: his partner, Mark Andrew; his ex-wife and two daughters. The new bishop was married for 15 years before he and his wife divorced. He says he met Mr. Andrew two years later.

Overseeing the ceremony was the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who supported the new bishop’s candidacy during a tumultuous General Convention in Minneapolis in August at which delegates ratified the New Hampshire election. Bishop Griswold was the chief consecrator for yesterday’s ceremony.

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